In August of 2003 I moved to Spain. There was no logical reason for my move and, yet there was no hypothetical reason that could have prevented me from going. The impetus lay deep inside my mind, unknown to even me, but its presence was undeniable. I left New York City where I worked on Wall Street and was surrounded by many close friends and relocated to Madrid with no job and no friends. I have never felt so free and alive.
My vegetarian inclinations quickly disappeared when I realized the cultural importance that food, particularly pork, plays in understanding the Spanish people and their culture. If I truly wanted to connect with my new neighbors, I soon realized I must be open to eat and drink as they did since most social occasions revolved around meals, particularly long and animated ones. The first time the razor-thin slices of jamon iberico (spanish ham) melted over my tongue, I could feel some dusty pleasure center in my brain waking up. My Spanish companions could see the lights brighten behind my eyes with each bite, galvanizing them to unveil more Spanish culinary gems, like all kinds of Spanish wine, seafood from Galicia including navajas (razor clams) and percebes (barnacles), pimientos padron (fried green peppers) or cordero (baby lamb) and cuchinillo (suckling pig). If there is something for which I envy our Spanish counterparts, it is the reverence they hold for their place of origin and the pleasure they derive from sharing it with outsiders. This pride is most easily expressed in the currency of food and wine. The passion with which they showcase and celebrate their regional specialities create not only palate memories, but also images, smells and sensations rich in colors, laughter and nostalgia.
I phoned my older sister, Karen, who was a Sous Chef at a top restaurant in San Francisco on a regular basis to divulge each culinary and enological discovery. It wasn’t long before she too left the US to explore and experience this culinary carnival with me.
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